As the NBA Draft was fast approaching this summer, Eugene Omoruyi knew the deck was stacked against him.
No NBA general managers, player personnel directors or coaches were lining up at his doorsteps or blowing up his cell phone. It was, as they say, crickets.
So knowing what he knew, Omoruyi devised a scheme to sway the attention in his direction. And it apparently worked.
“The biggest thing that we learned when he came in for his summer workout and the short conversation that I had with him was he wanted to compete against the guys that were there that day that were ahead of him on the (draft) board,” Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “And that was kind of a little tidbit that I thought was kind of cool, because he was on no (draft) board, and he had something to prove and you could see that when he plays.”
Playing with an obvious chip on his shoulders, Omoruyi held his own that day. And he held his own so much after that, averaging 14.8 points and 5.3 rebounds and shooting 55.3 percent from the field for the Mavs on their summer league team in Las Vegas, they ultimately signed him to a two-way contract.
That hunger from Omoruyi continued during last Friday’s 122-114 preseason win over the Los Angeles Clippers as he tallied a team and game-high tying 19 points, and also contributed five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
At 6-6 and 235 pounds, Omoruyi is what is characterized as a “tweener.” He doesn’t have the ball-handling and perimeter shooting skills to be classified as a true shooting guard, and he’s somewhat short to be considered a power forward.
But what he lacks in those departments, he more than makes up for it in sheer heart and determination.
“I think when you look at Eugene, if you listen to analytics, he wouldn’t be playing basketball because he doesn’t check all the boxes,” Kidd said. “When he came in for his workout, he played extremely hard and that has not changed.”
In playing 22 minutes against the Clippers after not playing at all in the preseason opener against the Utah Jazz, Omoruyi got some time on the floor with starters such as Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. That gave him a ton of confidence that Kidd would trust to put him on the court with the Mavs’ two stars.
“They’ve really taken me in, they’ve really acted as vets,” said Omoruyi, who was 8-of-14 from the field against the Clippers. “They’ve really shown me the ropes and shown me the ways of affecting the game.”
And that’s all Omoruyi wanted was a chance to affect the game. Omoruyi, who turns 25 on Valentine’s Day, has this love affair with basketball and he wants the whole world to know it.
Omoruyi played three years at Rutgers and was named honorable mentioned All-Big Ten his junior season after averaging 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. Then he decided to transfer to Oregon, where he redshirted a year before averaging 17.1 points and 5.4 rebounds this past season.
No one has to tell Omoruyi that there are more rookies with more accolades attached to their name than him. But for Omoruyi, all of that is more fodder for him to lace up his sneakers and simply outwork the next guy.
“I’m coming in to work and I’m coming in to show people what I do best,” he said. “And that’s just play hard and do anything I can do.”
“He’s continued to play hard, and he’s developed,” Kidd said. “Since we’ve gotten him he’s gotten better.
“You could see he’s a little bit more comfortable and feels like he belongs. That’s how this journey has started with him, and I think he’s proven that he belongs in the league.”
Behind the scenes, Omoruyi said his mission is to always stay mentally prepared to play, and secretly remind himself that he belongs in this league And when he gets in a game, leave everything out on the court.
“It’s my rookie year, but I’m not the same as a lot of rookies,” Omoruyi said. “I’m mature and I know I’ve got to come in and play my role and do whatever I can to affect the game.
“We have scorers out there and, like I said, whatever I need to do. Just me coming out here and competing at the highest level is big for me.”